Thursday, May 17, 2012

Desert Tortoise II

Saturday I was in southeastern Joshua Tree National Park, near Eagle Mountain and Carey's Castle, when I had a wonderful surprise. I was at the edge of a small mountain climbing over and around some boulders when I looked down and saw a medium sized desert tortoise standing on top of a large rock.
I have posted previously on the desert tortoise. We had a large one as a pet for a number of years and I'd seen one at Joshua Tree years ago when I was part of a large youth group, but this one was different. I was the only person for miles, 4 1/2 miles from my car, and seeing it there just didn't seem right. It is hard to believe that these slow, nonaggressive, lumbering animals can survive in that environment. I circled it, 
taking pictures 
and observing for more than 30 minutes. 
Why would a desert tortoise climb up a large rock? 
There is no food, and their flat, armor plating, doesn't create a good platform for going up uneven rock. It was such an incongruous place to see one 
that I am still scratching my head. 
But that is part of the charm of the desert tortoise, that something so seemingly ill-fitted for that environment can survive. The face is pretty homely, 
something only a mother could love. The mouth lightly stained green by vegetation 
and the large padded front legs are reminiscent of the leg pads on a hockey goalie. 
These same pads are used to shield the tortoise's face when threatened. 
Both front and hind legs have impressive long nails
which must be beneficial when digging in the hard dirt, a necessity for them to burrow. On the hike back to my car I re-thought money of the signs of animal activity I've seen in this area and realized that some of it is attributable to the desert tortoise. I've seen many partially caved in holes, that must be tortoise, and some of the dung I've seen, which I've thought was probably coyote, probably was desert tortoise. 

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